Wisconsin assistant coach Lamont Paris and the Badger basketball program got an early Christmas present Sunday that most people were not expecting.
Six-foot-seven forward Nigel Hayes from Toledo (OH) Whitmer High School chose the Badgers over local favorite Ohio State after cutting his list to those two schools early last week. Thus ends a hotly-contested recruitment between Big Ten rivals that featured a great disparity in prioritization.
It was tough to gauge Ohio State's interest in Hayes as it continued to recruit other higher-rated power forwards, like Devin Williams, in the same class. Meanwhile, Wisconsin had the luxury of going all in for Hayes with one scholarship remaining, a clear need for a player like Hayes up front, and a great relationship fostered by Paris. Wisconsin zeroed in on Hayes and never relented throughout October. He responded well to the attention.
Hayes confirmed his decision, and in simple terms stated, "They love me."
Is it that simple? Maybe so. Or maybe it was all those Call of Duty sessions with Bo Ryan.
The decision puts Coach Paris' emphatic stamp on the future roster by snagging a Top 150 talent in his third year on the staff. Paris has clearly put that Ohio background to work for him, also getting Vitto Brown from nearby Bowling Green to commit in September. The city of Findlay, where Paris grew up, is just 25 miles south of Bowling Green and 50 miles south of Toledo in northwest Ohio.
With Hayes in the fold, Wisconsin basically has an entire starting five committed for the fall of 2013. Hayes is probably the second most important recruit in the class, behind LaCrosse (WI) Aquinas point guard Bronson Koenig. In addition, the Badgers will bring in the 6'8" Brown, swingman Riley Dearring from Minnesota and guard Jordan Hill from California.
Hayes is one of the top power forwards in the class of 2013, and rated as one of the top 150 prospects in the class by 24/7 Sports. However, Hayes has grown increasingly versatile and would be able to play either forward spot for the Badgers, especially with the bigger Brown already committed in UW's class. Hayes averaged 13.8 ppg as a junior last season for Whitmer and has twice been named Second Team All-State in Ohio.
Here's what Badgers247.com's Evan Flood had to say ($) about how Hayes could blend in with the Badgers:
For starters, Wisconsin is getting a great fit for their swing offense. Hayes can play both forward positions and excels at making things happen for his teammates. I love his ability to handle the ball as a big man and distribute the rock. Hayes is one of the smartest players I've ever watched. He's improving on his three-point shot and if he can develop a consistent jumper, he'll be a great addition to the Badgers.
Check out B5Q's prospect profile page for Hayes to see more video.
When Williams popped for West Virginia last week (one of several big men Ohio State has missed out on this cycle), many feared Hayes would get the full-court press from the Buckeyes and commit to his childhood dream school. But Wisconsin had already made a deep impression and a combination of factors led Hayes to commit.
First of all, Ryan and Paris won over the parents. Secondly, Hayes' older brother recently transferred out of the Ohio State football program. Even if there wasn't a burned bridge there, it was one less reason to attend OSU. Hayes took a slew of official visits in September to finalists Wisconsin, then Minnesota, then Stanford, but only took an unofficial visit to Ohio State on October 6, perhaps because Columbus is only a two-and-a-half hour drive from Toledo.
When Hayes elminated Minnesota and Stanford from the running, and then left Columbus without a commitment, Badger fans were cautiously optimistic. Yet it's still fair to say that Hayes' choice was a bit of a surprise to all. Hayes had previously stated his preference for making a decision before the early national signing period (which starts Wednesday) and before his high school season began. Mission accomplished.
So it appears the Buckeye message board crawlers will get their wish -- they won't have to settle for Hayes. They'll have to settle for someone else.
And that means the 2013 Badgers "wolfpack" can add another wolf!
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